Scary dreams are made of these horror images by Singapore photographer

At left, a mask made by Tay using doll limbs and one of Tay’s recent shoots, at right. Photos: Tay Yuan Song
At left, a mask made by Tay using doll limbs and one of Tay’s recent shoots, at right. Photos: Tay Yuan Song

What are your nightmares made of? For Singaporean photographer Tay Yuan Song, it’s 1920s dolls, animal skulls, and Barbie’s limbs. 

The 23-year-old artist has a penchant for bewitching his audience and then leaving their blood run cold with scenes of pagan rituals, a creepy Humpty Dumpty, and beheaded dolls simmering in curry. These are just some of the tricks he keeps in his bag of horrors, and more. 

“Fear, phobia, trauma are all deeply ingrained inside our brain. Fear cannot and will never lie,” Tay said when asked about his obsession with the dark side. Speaking to Coconuts while serving his time as the country’s national serviceman, Tay explained that his art uses horror to reveal our most authentic side, while also helping him to express his inner demons.

“My horror art is like a platform for me to channel my suppressed and bottled up feelings. It helps me to look deeper into my darkness in my subconscious mind to drag those monsters straight out of my nightmares and proudly exhibit them for my audiences to see,” he said.

Besides, with the overly glorified images of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands resort and the Jewel Changi Airport, Tay’s take on a more ghoulish version of this glitzy city-state might even seem refreshing. He transforms Coney Island, parks, playgrounds, and cemeteries of Bukit Brown into backdrops worthy of a scene in the wildly popular American Horror Stories TV series.

Creating horrifying photos also makes Tay feel “alive and occupied in this mundane world,” and for as long as he can remember, he has always been drawn to things that are “strangely beautiful.” Perhaps, his outlook on art is similar to Banksy, the famous and mysterious English street artist, who once said: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

He has added morbid twists to the nursery rhyme icon Humpty Dumpty, which according to his imagination is a woman with an oversized bald head and carrying a haggard doll. He also rekindled memories of the horrifying 1984 curry murder with a video of the dish being cooked with doll parts

Tay’s most disturbing work yet is one that mixes death and kink. Tay recently traveled to the Tampines Quarry with some members of the local BDSM community for a photoshoot that incorporated the shibari Japanese bondage as well as goat skulls, and bones from a local taxidermist. Some might see it as something out of satan’s bedroom. But for Tay, that’s a dream come true. 

“It’s my favorite because I’ve been wanting to shoot a pagan ritualistic kind of shoot for a long time and I finally shot it,” he said.

One time, an old woman was so horrified by the masked-up models waving at her on set that she had to cover her grandchild’s face while walking past. Tay said he was prepared to have the police called on him for acting suspiciously.

But scaring Singaporeans is not his only plan. Tay also hopes to inspire a change in taste in art.

“I want to live to see the day more people accept this form of art that I create today. And I really really really hoped to inspire more people to step out of their comfort zone to do what they really like instead of what society expects,” he said.

Tay and his models in a recent shoot. Photo: Tay Yuan Song
Tay and his models in a recent shoot. Photo: Tay Yuan Song

House of horrors

Tay has boxes filled with dolls and masks in a room. 

One of them had Barbie dolls sticking out of the face. There is also a doll – all scratched up and with piercing blue eyes – that was created a century ago during the 1920s. He considered these two as some of his “best companions.”

Tay has more than 30 masks and a handful of dolls. Most of them shipped from the United States and Europe. He doesn’t keep count of exactly how many he has but knows that he has spent more than S$1,600 (US$1,200). 

@tay_yuansongSomething hidden #foryoupage #tiktoksg #singapore #fyp #paranormal #haunted #doll♬ Scary – Background Sounds

“The main reason I use a mask is because I also believe that masks frighten people not because of how it looks on the outside but what’s hidden behind the mask. Humans are also scary,” he said. Tay shows off his creepy haul of dolls and masks on TikTok, where he will tease his viewers with horror stories about them. Are those real? It’s up to you to decide, he said.

“I will just tell them I will neither deny or confirm that it’s real. It’s up to them to believe, if they don’t believe I’m ok with it because if I tell people it’s fake they also don’t believe. I tell people it’s real they also won’t believe so I just let them decide,” he said. 

For someone who enjoys the ghostly world so much, Tay doesn’t actually believe in ghosts. Not even devil-worshipping. But his mother thinks he’s “crazy.” She nearly called in a counselor after seeing her son bringing home creepy-looking dolls and masks all the time, Tay said. 

Years later, his mother became used to his antics. She once shocked Tay by laying out the doll limbs used for the cooking video on the window sill to dry.

“After that shoot I rinsed the doll parts and the next day I woke up and I was quite shocked to see that my mum had helped me casually hang the things outside. She arranged it neatly with the arms and legs. I think it’s quite funny, I can imagine the neighbors keep looking at her,” he said. 

Other stories you should check out:

One dot at a time, braille team keeps Singapore’s sightless in the loop
Nights of Terror: Singapore’s spookiest encounters caught on tape

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